Eating Habits: the Vedda and the Sociology Professor
by Chandra Arulpragasam
In 1950, the writer (an undergraduate at that time) undertook a sociological survey of the Veddas in the jungles of Wellassa and Bintenne in the Uva Province. This involved a trek of around 250 miles in the jungles of the Uva and Eastern Provinces., where few had ventured before. My Professor of Sociology at the University of Ceylon, Dr. Bryce Ryan, came to the start of the jungle trail to see me off. Just as we were sitting down to lunch, a Vedda happened to pass on the trail. I engaged him in conversation while Professor Ryan started eating at his picnic table close by. The Vedda with long matted and unkempt hair was naked except for a skimpy loin-cloth and an axe on his shoulder. When he saw the Professor eating with his fork and knife, he shook his head disapprovingly and spat disgustedly, saying: ‘Look at that white man: see how he eats!’
The Professor sensing that something disparaging was being said about him, asked with curiosity: ‘What’s he saying’? So I imitated the Vedda’s reply, translating literally and spitting appropriately. The Professor, now agog, asked excitedly: ‘Why does he say that? Why does he say that?’ To which the Vedda replied: ‘See: he eats with some kind of instrument! How does he know how many other people have eaten with that same thing before’- and spat again in disgust. The Professor rejoined excitedly: ‘So what does he do? What does he do instead?’ To which the Vedda proudly replied: ‘I eat with my right hand, which nobody else can use. I don’t use my left hand because I know what it does’! What really surprised me later was the fervour with which the Professor defended his culinary habits – as fervently as the Vedda did his!
Informed by this insight, during my travels abroad later, my eyes were always open to the eating habits of different peoples. For instance, in Japan, when a bowl of rice is served, a pair of chopsticks is included. The chopsticks made of pinewood are joined together at one end like Siamese twins, thus ensuring that no one else had used them before. It struck me however, that these chopsticks, having been cut out of pine trees, dragged through the forest floor, then cut by a machine and falling on the factory floor, could not be all that clean! But I then realized that I was just trying to justify my eating with my right hand (because I know what my left hand does!) as being ‘superior’ to eating with chopsticks! And so it goes on, with each culture doing its own thing, insisting all the while that it is the best!
Saying ‘No’, when we mean ‘Yes’
I became conscious of a certain Sri Lankan mannerism, on a two-hour ferry-boat journey to the isles of Capri and Ischia in Italy, around 1968. We were on one side of a large ferry, while the bar was on the other side, about 60 feet away. Since I was going to get myself a beer, I asked my wife whether she wanted a drink. She indicated ‘Yes’ with a sway of her head from side to side, in Sri Lankan style. So I crossed to the bar and ordered the two drinks. The barman, hardly looking up from washing the glasses, asked me briskly: ‘You are from Ceylon, Sir?’ I almost dropped with surprise. First, hardly any Italian knew at that time where Ceylon was – or even that it in fact existed. But secondly, how could he have guessed my nationality just by looking at me? Surprised, I asked him how he could have guessed this so quickly. Smilingly he replied: ‘I saw you asking your wife if she would have a drink, and she shook her head from side to side, signifying “No”. But then you came across and ordered a drink for her – which means that she said “Yes”. The only place where shaking your head to indicate ‘No’ means ‘Yes’ is in Ceylon!’
I was surprised, first, because I myself had not noticed this seeming ‘contradiction’ before. But secondly, I could not resist asking him how he could possibly have known this. He replied smiling, that he had been a prisoner of war in Ceylon during World War II in the 1940s – and remembered this Ceylonese trait even 25 years later! So Sri Lanka remains the country, where we shake our heads, understood elsewhere to signify ‘No’, when we really mean ‘Yes’!
As a matter of interest, the barman also told me that the happiest years of his life were spent ‘in prison’ in Ceylon, roaming the hills of Diyatalawa where the Italian prisoners were supposed to be confined! The British must have been confident that their prisoners would not escape from their haven (heaven) to go back to war-torn Europe!
Women Not Showing Their Legs
In Italy today, women at the age of 50 are usually slim, elegant and well groomed. This was not the case in Italy in the 1960’s when women over 50 (especially in the south) often had a ‘pasta roll’ around their waist, usually dressed in black dresses as a sign of mourning for some long departed family member. My wife, on the other hand, usually dressed in her full sari with a choli blouse, which coyly showed a bit of midriff. When visiting a supermarket, this was the cause of some consternation among two elderly Italian ladies, modestly dressed in baggy black gowns. After talking agitatedly among themselves, one of the ladies, not being able to contain herself any longer, came across to my wife and said: ‘Pardon me, Sigñora, but your midriff is ‘nuda’ (in Italian: ‘nuda’, means ‘nude’). My wife taken aback and nonplussed, looked down at her midriff and asked in surprise: ‘What’s wrong with my midriff?’ The old lady, even more agitated, replied that it was ‘nuda’. At this point my wife looked at the old lady’s legs and said ‘Sigñora, but your legs are ‘nuda’/showing. (In South Asia at that time, it was considered immodest for a woman, especially an older woman, to show her legs: but this was obviously not so in western society). The old lady, equally taken aback, looked down at her legs and said: ‘What’s wrong with my legs?’ And my wife replied: ‘They are nuda’. The old lady was puzzled.
Not knowing what to make of this weird exchange, she walked back to her companion for more animated discussion! We were amused at this cross-cultural exchange: of two cultures speaking across each other, but not to each other, in terms that neither could understand.
It is equally interesting to note changes within the same culture over time. On a typical Italian or western street today, girls walk around with whole midriffs exposed, showing also their belly buttons, suitably embellished with rings!
I wonder what the Italian old ladies would say to this now!
This also varies across cultures: the exposure of female legs is either a matter of good taste, sexiness or shame, depending on the culture concerned. In the Indian sub-continent (including Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) it is not decent for women to expose their legs, least of all above the knee. On the other hand, it is customary, fashionable and even sexy in the western world to do so. Going farther afield, in China, one notes that legs were not considered sexy at all – neither a matter of pride or shame. Traditionally in China (before Mao’s time) women wore the cheongsam, a long dress with a slit all the way up the thigh. On the other hand, these same Chinese women were shy to show their necks, favoring high collars so that their necks were not exposed! This is in contrast to women in the Indian sub-continent, who have no problem in showing their necks, but do have a problem in showing their thighs!
The Mark of a ‘Mahathaya’
In the 1960s in Sri Lanka, anyone who wore trousers was addressed as ‘Mahathaya’. This was taken for granted, despite the movement after 1956 to use the national dress. However, it was NOT the wearing of trousers that made one a ‘Mahathaya’. The trousers only marked a person as belonging to the English-speaking ‘elite’ – which is what entitled that person to wear trousers in the first place. Conversely, in those days, if one could not speak English, one would never presume to wear trousers! The actual equation went something like this: wearing trousers = English-speaking = higher class = Mahathaya. The trousers were a badge of honour, defining one as belonging to the English-speaking ‘elite’, which signified that the person was of a higher socio-economic status, giving him the ‘right’ to wear trousers and to be addressed as ‘Mahathaya’. Conversely, a man wearing a sarong would not usually be addressed as ‘Mahathaya’ in those days – except in certain specific contexts.
I was to see the absurdity of this equation, applied in the same way, but in a different country. When in Delhi, a Sri Lankan Embassy friend offered to give me a ride to an international meeting. Having lost our way, my friend drew up to a cyclist, to ask the way. The cyclist was a simple man, wearing the long trousers/pantaloons habitually worn by north Indians. My friend spoke in English, but the man replied in Hindi, saying (probably) that he could not understand English, and went on repeating the same. Exasperated and annoyed, my Sri Lankan friend turned to me and said: ‘This fellow is pretending to know English, when he clearly does not!’ The poor man had been going about his business, in no way pretending that he knew English, but was falsely accused of doing so! The problem was obviously not with the man, but in the mind of the Sri Lankan beholder, who had assumed that the man knew English only because he had ‘dared’ to wear trousers!
This was the situation around 1970. Things have obviously changed since then: young men, even non-English speakers now wear trousers, while it is equally or more respectable to wear the national dress, as done by the Prime Minister himself!
Saying Goodbye, the Sri Lankan Way
In most European countries, there is a way of expressing parting or departure, while expecting to meet again. This is conveyed by the French ‘au revoir’ or the Italian ‘arrividerci’, which mean: ‘till we meet (see each other) again’, In Sri Lanka, visitors would say that they are going, while swaying their heads from side to side, saying ‘we will come’(api ennang) – even when they are actually going!
One notices two things in this ritual. First, instead of saying ‘then I shall go’, they will say ‘I shall come’. In Sinhala this is expressed as: ‘gihing ennang’; but this is often abbreviated to ‘Ennang’ (I shall come/return). Likewise in Tamil, one would say ‘poitu vaarane’, which is usually abbreviated to ‘Vaarane’ – which literally means in both languages: ‘I shall come’. The idea, therefore, is the same as the French ‘au revoir’ or the Italian ‘arrividerci’.
More quaint, however, is the ritualistic dance, whereby a departing couple would turn again at the door and sway their heads from side to side, saying, or not even saying: ‘Then we will come’. The significance of this movement seems to be that of seeking permission to go, which goes beyond the French or Italian versions of the same: a politeness of seeking permission to leave. In fact we are actually saying: ‘I shall go and come, Okay?’, thus seeking consent for one’s departure.
To a foreigner, this repeated ritual would seem strange. When leaving, a Sri Lankan couple would tilt their heads from side to side and then get up to go, saying ‘api ennang’ (we shall come). Halfway through the door, they would again shake their heads from side to side, like marionettes, before they finally leave!
All this is avoided by the traditional Sinhala and Tamil mode of greeting/parting -by bringing the hands together in the form of worship. What is indicative is the intentional non-touching of the body: there are no hugs or touchy-feely manifestations in South Asian partings – a special merit in these days of Covid! This is also seen in the Indian ‘namaste’, which is said to mean: “I salute the God within you, which is also within me” – marking a soul-to-soul salutation, which should be good for the soul!
THE SECOND IMPEACHMENT OF DONALD J. TRUMP
by Vijaya Chandrasoma
The deadly storming of the Capitol grounds and buildings in Washington DC, on January 6, by white, terrorist supporters of President Trump, while Congress was in session, was the worst day in the history of the greatest democracy in the world. Ongoing FBI investigations reveal that the insurrection has been months in the planning. In fact, there is convincing evidence that most of the terrorists were acting on the direct instructions, they were heeding a call to patriotism, by the Commander-in-Chief.
The FBI also predicts that extremists “have been emboldened to carry out more attacks” after the siege on the Capitol. One message has been heard loud and clear during the Trump presidency: White Supremacists today constitute the most significant threat of domestic terror in the United States.
With the Vice President refusing to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove a dangerous president, the House impeached Trump for the second time with the largest bipartisan majority in history, on Wednesday January 13, on the single Article of “Incitement of Insurrection” for his role in the assault on the Capitol last week.
The Article of Impeachment will be presented to the Senate for trial after Trump’s term has ended. A conviction by the Senate when Trump will no longer be president is unlikely, as the evidence stands today. However, by the time the Senate trial gets under way, the FBI may uncover conclusive evidence about Trump’s complicity in the insurrection; also Trump may face criminal charges in federal courts on incitement to an insurrection. These investigations and new evidence may change the course of the Senate’s impeachment trial.
A conviction will bar Trump from holding office ever again, and will also deprive him of all post-presidential perks, a $200,000 per year pension, a $1 million per year travel allowance and personal security for life. All on the taxpayer’s dime.
Trump’s impeachment defence team argues that his incendiary pre-insurrection speeches are protected by the First Amendment (freedom of speech); while the impeachment process is itself unconstitutional, as it involves an attempt to get rid of a president who no longer holds that office. Both arguments are, according to common law and constitutional precedent, full of holes.
The primary motive of this terrorist act was not only to violently undermine democracy by overturning a fair and secure election; it was not only to establish an authoritarian dictatorship; it was not to stave off the imminent threat of socialism, an ideology feared by some Americans with no understanding that most of them are enjoying its benefits in their everyday lives; it was also not only a futile attempt of a criminal president to remain in an office which provides him with immunity from prosecutions of a plethora of sordid crimes committed during his term of office and before.
The primary motive of this violent insurrection was another desperate effort to stem the inevitable decline of white supremacy the United States has enjoyed since the Europeans invaded the New World 400 years ago. An insurrection with the probable operational motivation and coordination by the sitting president of the United States and his white supremacist cult.
After the violence, President-elect Biden made a statement: “Let me be very clear. The scenes of chaos at the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are”.
The New York Times responded to the President-elect’s speech of unity and reconciliation:
“Are you sure about that, Joe? This is exactly who we are. An armed standoff, white male entitlement, conspiracy theories. Sounds very American to me. We should not be surprised because we have always been like this…. Racial violence is in our national DNA.
“America is a stolen land built by stolen people.”
A land born of genocide, made prosperous by the free labor of slavery, thriving as the richest and most powerful nation in the world on the back of awesome, self-serving military might. A country with a record of genocide of millions of native Americans, 200+ years of slavery, softened in brutality by a further 200 years of Jim Crow laws – an “equal but separate” doctrine of apartheid that trampled on the rights of black people until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – right up to the blatant, quasi-legal racial discrimination and violence rampant today.
“All men are created equal” said the 1776 Declaration of Independence, and “We the People of the United States” of the 1789 Constitution referred only to the white men of the United States. Black slaves were not considered to be human by the framers of these revered Documents. They did not form a part of the “perfect union”. They existed only to faithfully fulfill those “certain inalienable Rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” demanded by the white man, but never to enjoy them.
And when the insurrectionists were screaming “We want our country back” during the assault on the Capitol, the country they wanted back was the white paradise of the good old Confederate days. Slavery, Jim Crow, the Klan, Proud Boys and all.
Each successive generation of Americans has tried to mitigate the barbarous practices of white supremacy. They no longer live in a society where human beings are hunted and killed for sport, where human beings are boiled in oil for slacking or striving for freedom, where a black male was lynched for looking, with imagined lust, at a white woman.
Unfortunately, Americans still live in a society in which racial discrimination exists in every aspect of human life; where illegal, racist acts of violence and murder are committed, not only by law enforcement, with a depressingly regular frequency.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964, followed by the Equal Rights movement spearheaded by Martin Luther King Jnr., saw the United States moving towards a more equitable and racially just social environment. Of course there were incidents of racial tension, violence and discrimination from 1964 to the present day. But they seemed to be decreasing in ferocity and regularity, until the 2016 election of Donald Trump lit a slow burning fuse that exploded on January 6, 2020 and will keep on exploding as long as Trump and his white supremacist cult are allowed to hold sway. And as long as Trump continues to diminish democracy by propagating the Big Lie that the 2020 election, the cornerstone of government of the people, by the people, for the people, has been subverted.
The election of African American Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008, was heralded, with unfortunately false optimism, as the end to racial discrimination in the United States. President Obama’s blackness was paraded and highlighted as evidence of the end of racial discrimination; his brilliant academic record, his exemplary community service, his voting record in the Senate and his unparalleled oratory took second place to his skin color as the primary reason for his election. Americans used the blackness of President Obama to announce to the world that they are, at last, who they said they were, that the American Dream was still very much alive. And inclusive.
Inheriting an economy approaching a depression, President Obama ended two terms of extraordinarily successful administration in 2016 with 72 months of continuous economic growth and a booming economy, capped by the enactment of his signature Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which gave health insurance to over 40 million additional Americans. All this, without fanfare, without a trace of scandal, political or personal. A president and an administration still admired throughout the world.
But Obama’s presidency did not win the approval of a large section of the American people. Inherent racism, exacerbated by resentment at the successful, scandal-free administration of a black president, had been seething under the surface of White America, ripe to be ruthlessly exploited by the manic racism of Donald Trump in 2016.
Trump used his consummate talent for lying to deceive his people that he had inherited a disastrous economy from the previous administration. He propagated and repeated his first Big Lie, that he alone created the booming economy, when he was merely hanging on Obama’s coattails. His deregulation of environmental safeguards made his corporate friends rich, while polluting the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we love and strive to protect. His tax policies enriched his billionaire friends while the middle and poorer classes struggled for existence, many remaining mired in poverty and debt. In the richest country of the world.
There is little doubt that Trump would have coasted to a second term in 2020 if a pandemic of disastrous proportions did not expose his colossal ignorance and homicidal incompetence. Sadly, it took the preventable deaths of 350,000+ Covid victims, followed by an economic collapse, to underscore the enormity of Trump’s self-serving dereliction of duty, which caused a landslide majority of 81 million Americans to vote him out in the most secure election in the nation’s history.
Unfortunately, Trump’s abysmal record has not changed the opinion of 74 million Americans who worship Trump, and voted for him two months ago, in spite of four years of a criminal presidency which has brought America down to its political, economic and virus-ridden knees. And made the most powerful nation the laughing stock of the world.
The recent violence wrought by domestic white terrorists on the Capitol was treated with velvet gloves covering a gentle law enforcement fist. Consideration not shown to Black Lives Matter and other minority protests, which are invariably punished to the fullest, most brutal extent of the law.
White supremacy is pervasive, with complicity in all sections of American society. In fact, three Republican Congressmen, seven law enforcement officers and even one Olympic multiple Gold Medal winner are currently facing charges for their role in the January 6 insurrection.
The FBI reports that Trump supporters are planning insurrections in every one of the 50 states from January 16, culminating in a Million Militia March in Washington DC on Inauguration Day. Their investigations indicate that these nationwide insurrections are carefully planned events, with complicity of the presidency, Congress, rogue members of law enforcement and the myriad white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations that have crawled out of the woodwork during the Trump administration.
20,000 members of the National Guard have been assigned to secure President Biden’s inauguration, more soldiers than deployed in the war zones of the Middle East. 20,000 troops to protect Americans from Americans, and to ensure the continuation of one of America’s great traditions, the peaceful transfer of power.
The defeat of Donald Trump is like chopping off one head of the multi-headed monster, Hydra that is today’s Republican Party; each time one head is chopped, two more emerge, each more virulent and deadlier than the last.
T. S. Eliot: A response to Kumar David’s “dislike”
by H. L. D. Mahindapala
I like reading Prof. Kumar David’s (KD) column in the Sunday Island, even though the contents lean heavily towards Marxist mantras which have passed its use-by-date long before the fall of the Berlin Wall. What grabbed my attention was the Jan. 3 column which was a foray into English literature. As a bibliophile I agree wholeheartedly with his love of classics and even with some of his likes and dislikes. For instance, one can’t expect everyone to enjoy James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, let alone read it. If I remember correct, Regi Siriwardena took great pride in reading it though Prof. E. F. C. Ludowyk, the Grand Master of English Lit at Peradeniya, did not like the text.
KD’s column indicates that he has very strong likes and dislikes, vibrating sometimes with visceral hate. He says he “loathes” the Bagavad Gita. A modest word like “dislike”, “disagree”, I can understand. But “loathe”? Isn’t that a bit too harsh a word for someone like KD? In any case, how can one “loathe” the Gita – one of the world’s greatest spiritual songs that debates the profound moral issue faced by man in the battlefield: to kill or not to kill. I can understand Prabhakaran loathing it. But KD??? Incredible!
The central issue in the Gita is to define the moral duty of man. Finding that, particularly in times of crises, causes mind-bending agonies. It is the same question posed by Shakespeare in Hamlet : to be or not to be. Arjuna and Hamlet are both morally disturbed individuals standing confused in the middle of a rotten state, not knowing what form their action should take to meet the challenges facing them. Arjuna agonizing over the duty facing him – the duty of killing – asks Krishna how can he kill his kith and kin. Hamlet too is agonizing over a similar issue. He has to clean up the rotten, the incestuous, the chaotic state which means eliminating his kith and kin in power, with killing if necessary. It is a duty cast upon him by his father’s ghost who seeks revenge. He is tortured and paralyzed by his own doubts and questions. Should he allow the rotten status quo to continue, or should he take up the sword and go into action wherever it may lead? What is his moral duty? That is the question.
KD, however, does not give any reason for loathing the Gita. It sounded somewhat like a personal reaction as if he was a Jew reacting to the sight of a Muslim, or vice versa in the Middle East. If he doesn’t like the text, may I request him to read the introduction to the version edited by the Indian philosopher S. Radhakrishna, who was also the President of India later. He illuminates it with his brilliant intellect so lucidly that in the end you will remember his introduction better than the Gita. His thought-provoking insights are memorable. For instance, he surveys the religious field broadly and points out that neither Jesus nor Buddha gave answers to questions about some of the core issues that had baffled philosophers, religious leaders, scientists etc., down the ages. Buddha discouraged those who went in search of the origins and the ends of the universe or life. He dismissed them as irrelevant to the existential crises faced by man in his cycle in samsara. Jesus too, he points out, was silent when Pontius Pilate asked: What is truth? If KD doesn’t want to read the text I am sure he would enjoy Radhakrishna’s introduction.
Now I come to his literary criticism of T. S. Eliot. I concede that he is entitled to his tastes and I must respect his choices. But when he came to Eliot he went beyond expressing his “dislike.” He accused Eliot of being “pretentious”. It amounts to a literary criticism which means it is open for criticism. Here KD steps into an area which, I think, is not his domain. Neither in his personal life nor in writing the poetic masterpieces of the 20th century did Eliot show any signs of “pretentiousness.” He became a very fastidious Englishman, with a bowler hat and umbrella, after he abandoned the loud and brash American culture into which he was born. He was very Catholic in his literary tastes, though he did not go that far in his religion. He ended up in the Anglican High Church which was the nearest to the Catholic church.
I value Eliot as the most intellectual of all English poets. No other poet has gone down the path of giving the emotional equivalent of thought, of deep philosophical thought, as Eliot. He could fill hard, recondite thoughts with feelings and lead you to meaning and understanding his vision and his meditations. But I am getting far ahead of the issue at hand. I have to first deal with KD dismissing entire body of Eliot’s work as “pretentious”. He does this by taking the last words in Eliot’s Naming of a Cat, a poem that plays with words which eventually became a musical sensation after Andrew Lloyd Webber took those words and gave it a lyrical lift that entertained millions. But KD dismisses it somewhat superciliously in one line which goes like this : “I also dislike Eliot, who is pretentious: his “ineffable, effable, effanineffable, deep and inscrutable singular” game. Period.
Here Eliot is deliberately playing with words. There is no pretentiousness here. Besides, what was the necessity for a Nobel Laureate to be pretentious? Whom was he going to impress? He wrote like all great writers to give meaning to lives. Eliot was not the kind of poet who would use words to be “pretentious”. Eliot played with these words as if he was playing with a kitten: lightly, gently, fondly and delicately. To get a feel of the words let’s view the full poem before going any further. Here it is:
The Naming Of Cats by T. S. Eliot
The Naming of Cats is difficult matter,It isn’t just one of your holiday games;You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatterWhen I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily,Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey–All of them sensible everyday names.There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter–But all of them sensible everyday names.But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified,Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat,Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum-Names that never belong to more than one cat.But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,And that is the name that you never will guess;The name that no human research can discover–But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.When you notice a cat in profound meditation,The reason, I tell you, is always the same:His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplationOf the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:His ineffable effableEffanineffableDeep and inscrutable singular Name.
Cat lovers (I’m one of them) can relate to the “cat in profound meditation” and that
“His mind is engaged in rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.”
In all seriousness, I tried my best to understand how KD could view Eliot as being “pretentious” purely on his aversion to the last lines. I was eager to understand his thinking, First thing that struck me was that it is unfair to judge anyone on a few lines excluding the corpus of Eliot’s writings. Perhaps, he could explain it in his response. Though I tried from various angles I failed to see any “pretentiousness” in these playful lines. “The staccato beat of the names – e.g., Plato, Admetus, Electra – alone suggests the whimsicality of the poem. The musicality in the syllabic rhythms was captured in several dramatic and cinematic versions, starting from Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1981. It was not meant to be serious poem like The Waste Land where he took the stentorian tone. In it he was looking down upon humanity and asking:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow out of this stony rubbish?
What he saw from his Olympian heights was
“A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And dry stone no sound of water.”
He was the Dante of the 20th century guiding humanity through the modern purgatory. He was dissecting their souls and exposing the diseased, worm-eaten core. To him the 20th century was the arid waste land. Even the grim scene he paints of the modern metropolis is awesome.
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many
A version of these lines is found in Dante’s text. Eliot borrowed it and made it is his own.
It is clear that in this poem he is using words playfully, as if he was playing with a cat. Those who saw the adaptation in the movie CATS will realize how the rhythmic words tripped off the tongues fluidly. The words were chosen to play around with sound. Eliot was toying with each word and name of cats. Eliot touched a chord in me when he spoke of the “cat’s meditative” thoughts. I have been fascinated by the mysterious, meditative moods of cats. They are such soothing, calming, relaxing pets to have around. When they leap like a feather into bed and sleep, snoring, next to you the whole world seems to be at rest. The soothing sound of peace comes down with each gentle snore. My wife and I still cry for “Bubby” (I wonder what Eliot would think of that name?) we lost in Melbourne a few years ago. Parting was so unbearable that I am determined never to adopt a cat ever.
I think I’ve said enough about Eliot and cats. I shall now await KD’s response to understand why Eliot is “pretentious” according to him.
James Anderson – Great Bowler And Consummate Professional
by Sanjeewa Jayaweera
James Michael Anderson, aged 38 reached a significant milestone on August 25, 2020 when playing in his 156th test match he took his 600th test wicket. He dismissed Azhar Ali, the captain of Pakistan with a perfect outswinger, the trademark delivery with which he has taken most of his wickets. He is the first fast bowler to have taken 600 test wickets as the other three are all spinners – Murali, Warne and Kumble.
In addition, Anderson has taken 269 wickets in 194 One day internationals. An economy of 4.92 runs per over is superior to that of Lasith Malinga, considered one of the best limited over bowlers.
He first played for England on December 15, 2002 in a one day international against Australia at the MCG and in May 2003 made his test debut against Zimbabwe at Lords. In the first five years after his debut, he was not a regular in the team and played in only 20 tests and took 62 wickets. He was a regular thereafter playing on average 12 to 14 test matches every year other than in 2019 and 2020.
In the decade ending 2020, he took 395 wickets in 100 test matches. His tally would have been higher had he played in more than just 11 test matches in the last two years. These statistics prove his consistency both in terms of form and importantly, his physical fitness. As the saying goes like fine wine, he got better with age. He was never an express fast bowler but more of fast-medium. His greatest asset was his ability to consistently swing the ball along with command over line and length. He always exploited the “corridor of uncertainty” a weakness among even the best of batsmen regularly.
His record against some of the top batsmen like Michael Clark, Warner, Tendulkar, Pujara, Kallis and Sangakkara is exemplary and a testament to his outstanding skill. Generally, the number of wickets taken by a bowler is the yardstick by which a bowler is judged. However, there is no doubt that the dismissal of the top batsmen of the opposition is the criteria that ultimately determines the great from the good.
Anderson’s performance at home is significantly better. In 89 test matches, he took 384 (64%) wickets. In 67 test matches played overseas, he took 216 wickets. The superior home record is primarily due to English conditions being conducive to swing bowling. Incidentally, Murali took 61% of his wickets at home. He took over 100 wickets against Australia (104) and India (110) the two top teams in the last decade and a half. He also took 93 wickets against South Africa. He has taken only 20 wickets against the minnows: Bangladesh and Zimbabwe, which amplifies his excellent record against stronger teams.
When England won (70 matches) with Anderson being part of the team, his contribution was significant. He took 323 wickets of which 256 were taken at home in 53 matches at an average of only 18.87 runs per wicket. As is the case for batsmen, even for bowlers, personal achievement is much sweeter and satisfying when it results in a team’s victory.
Anderson’s partnership with Stuart Broad, the other fast bowler in the team who has also taken over 500 test wickets, is as legendary a combination of Trueman and Statham, Lille and Thompson, Roberts and Holding, Walsh and Ambrose and a few others. They have complemented each other with Anderson being the swing bowler enticing edges from batsmen whilst Broad has been the battering ram bowling short most of the time trying to intimidate the batsmen. Quite a contrast!
Anderson has now been playing for 19 years which for a fast bowler is quite long. There is no doubt that fast bowling is a physically demanding task, and most careers don’t last as long as those of spin bowlers. Therefore, at the age of 38 to be still bowling fast-medium and being dead keen to continue his playing days for England is a testament to his absolute professionalism.
The fact that he has a perfect bowling action may have contributed to his longevity. However, I believe his dedication to maintaining his physical fitness has been the main contributing factor in keeping away injuries that seem to affect several Sri Lankan cricketers regularly. Anderson’s physique appears to be slim or maybe even thinner than when he made his debut as a 19-year-old. As most of us know, this takes a lot of effort in the gym and great discipline in one’s diet as we get older. Anderson has not let himself or his teammates or the country down in this regard.
Rex Clemantine, the sports editor of the Island in an article penned recently, has referred to the Sri Lanka team touring South Africa as “Unfit, unprofessional fat Sri Lankans.”. The context is totally understandable as five of our players broke down either when bowling or running between the wickets or even possibly moving within the dressing room! It was both embarrassing and maddening to watch player after player breaking down. When in a team of 11, five breakdowns, you are basically conceding the game to the opposition. In addition, there were two others in the squad already injured. As to why they were taken on tour when injured is a mystery.
Angelo Matthews, the most experienced of our players, did not even tour as he was injured during the LPL. We are used to seeing Matthews injured. Every time he steps on to the field of play, the odds are that he will not last the game. Despite that, it looks as if Angelo is always carrying a few kilograms in excess weight. It was expected that after Mahela, Sanga, and Dilshan’s retirements, Angelo would be the torchbearer of Sri Lankan batting. Nothing of that sort has happened as he has been more injured than playing.
Lasitha Malinga has been universally hailed for his brilliant performance as a limited-overs bowler in both the 50 overs and the 20 overs format. He has won several matches for Sri Lanka and is much a legend as Aravinda, Sanath, Murali, Vass, Mahela and Sanga. He will forever be remembered for his toe crushing yorkers that were more often than not unplayable. His ability to bowl yorkers at will and with unwavering accuracy is no doubt due to constant practice. That is what professionalism is all about. However, in the last few years, his midriff has resembled that of a five-month pregnant lady! In the 2018 world cup in England, Malinga won a couple of matches for Sri Lanka. However, his fitness was not that expected of a professional cricketer representing his country in a prestigious tournament. I say this based on several clips of him shared in social media bare-chested with a protruding stomach. Unfortunately, the Sri Lankan cricket board and the selectors have been too accommodative of Malinga. This should not have happened.
When our players were going down like ninepins in South Africa, the New Zealand fast bowler Neil Wagner played the last three days of the match against Pakistan with two broken toes. A Shaheen Afridi yorker had hit him when batting in New Zealand’s first innings. The left-arm quick battled through the pain and bowled in all 49 overs with two broken toes, as New Zealand prevailed with 4.3 overs remaining on the final day. He had said “On the last day I couldn’t walk getting out of bed, I sort of fell to the ground quite frustrated and quite angry, and just wanted to get out there and play. He had taken 12 injections on the last day to ease the pain.
I am not aware of the extent of our players’ injuries, and it is difficult to be hypercritical, but at the back of my mind, I just get the feeling that the commitment, bravery and the attitude of “over my dead body” of Neil Wagner may be lacking in some or most of our players.
I hope our players will look at James Anderson and take a cue from him and strive to achieve his professionalism. They will no do doubt be better cricketers.
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